A marketer’s guide to dealing with uncertainty

A marketer’s guide to dealing with uncertainty

Charlotte Stoel

Charlotte Stoel


Well 2016 wasn’t quite the year we all thought it might be. Most of the UK nation didn’t believe a decision to Brexit would happen, no-one thought Donald Trump would actually become president, the Toblerone triangular fiasco came from the left-field, and Brangelina is no more! The only thing we know for certain is that nothing is certain.

In the media world, this year Vine died after only three years of being a ‘thing’. Pokémon Go’s lifespan was even shorter and showed us the perfect use of gamification technology, but failed on retaining users. Its update announcement this week may be too little too late.

So, who’s Tanya Burr? We’re also seeing a quiet but sturdy rise of self-made online personalities. YouTubers are now appearing on billboard adverts in train stations making their power of influence soar through the roof. But now these YouTubers have hit the mainstream, are they still as powerful?

On the traditional publication side, there has been the ongoing issue of shrinking ad revenue forcing us to look at alternative monetisation strategies. More interesting to us, though, is the increase in sponsored content.

The pace of change is ever faster and we have high expectations of 2017 after the year we’ve had. The changes will come thick and fast.

Here are our tips on navigating uncertainty in PR and communications:

1. Fail fast

Every entrepreneur knows the phrase ‘fail fast’, and most people have heard this in a business context.

Failing can be about having the wrong business model, a bad leader or the wrong partner. But the phrase ‘fail fast;’ isn’t about addressing the big issues. Failing fast is the approach to running a company and addressing the little issues is a fast manner. It’s also about allowing for experimentation knowing that not everything will be successful.

In PR and marketing, failing fast is about taking into account real-time insights – like Google Analytics – and continually developing campaigns based on successes. It’s about making every effort count, whilst also being experimental. It’s no longer acceptable to run a three-month campaign and get to the end realising it has failed.

2. Increase your instant insight

You’ll have your own data to learn from, but what about getting a wider perspective? It’s not expensive to run consumer surveys and you can receive responses in a matter of hours. Those that ‘fail fast’ also ‘pivot’ which essentially means shifting focus. Pivoting is often based on your own insight, but getting an outside perspective can be a smart way to understand the implications of pivoting. With real-time data you understand the present, with surveys you can get a sense of how people would feel or think hypothetically. Our favourite tool for this is Instant Answers.

3. Spring up simulations and test yourself

Uncertainty is about not knowing what will happen but often when navigating uncertain times, we apply our past experience. This is why we recommend social media simulations to test and train teams managing social media channels. These social media simulations mean you can make mistakes in a controlled environment, but more importantly learn how to do things differently.

4. Pre-prepare with pre-mortems

A technique I often reference is pre-mortems. In the planning phase of any project you conduct a brainstorm and ask everyone to imagine that the project has gone wrong, then ask them why it has failed. It’s different to asking why it would go wrong, where people may not want to seem negative, you’re saying it has failed and asking them why you think that is. Essentially, this helps tease out the weaknesses of a project by giving everyone a platform to think of the worst (or even say what they’re thinking).

When applied to the PR planning process, this turns into a question of ‘why would our audience hate this campaign? Why wouldn’t they download / read our content?’ These limitations give campaigns boundaries and often eliminate ideas which could have taken projects off on tangents.

So, here’s a toast to 2017 and embracing all it has to throw at us. Instagram has developed a lot of new features this year and is set to take over Snapchat’s market share – a real one to watch. Virtual reality (VR) has been a hot topic and will continue to be a storytelling tool for marketers next year. And these are just of the trends that are likely to heat up – who know what else could happen.

Festive wishes to you all and happy new year!

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